Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A Story Inspired by a Song by Helen Hollick

guess the song
you'll probably know the lyrics of the opening lines...
but not necessarily the song title
Taken from chapter seven of Sea Witch by Helen Hollick which is written from Jesamiah Acorne's POV - but this excerpt is from Claude de la Rue's view:

May 1716. Jamaica

It is hard watching the sun rise when you know the one you will see tomorrow will be your last. That today is to be your last day, your last meal, your last breath. Hard, knowing that you will not grow old, your skin will not blotch with brown marks or become dry and wrinkled, that your sight will not fade, your hearing become muffled. Sans teeth, sans ears, sans eyes... sans whatever else Master Shakespeare included in that famous speech from whatever play it was - I forget now, my meagre schooling was a long time ago. Hard, knowing that your body will grow cold in the ground before you had a chance to do all the things you had wanted to do.

Hard to gaze out of the small apology of a window to see the clear, blue sky, to know that tomorrow your corpse will be one of several to replace those swinging there on the gallows today.

I am not sorry that I killed him, that bastard who treated her with no more respect than a rich plantation owner treats the poor wretches who are his indentured slaves. She wasn’t beautiful, wasn’t young and slender, wasn’t anything special to look at – but who is? I am certainly not. Love sees deeper than what is on the outside surface. Love sees beneath the skin and through the eyes. Love sees into the heart, to the depth of the soul. I adored her, mentally and physically. Was content and happy with her, whether we were walking together, laughing, eating, making love. She made me feel special, made me feel like a young new-to-the-adult-world boy again, not this gnarled middle-aged Frenchman that I am on the verge of becoming. Yes, I am only in my late thirties but a life at sea, climbing the rigging, hauling on ropes, trudging around a capstan, firing those great roaring guns takes its toll. The sea-winds make your skin weather-worn, craggy and as tough as old leather boots.

Tomorrow I am to hang because her rotten-to-the-marrow husband found us together, making love. He shot her, his pistol ball going clean through the centre of her forehead. At least she died instantly. That is a comfort. He tried to shoot me, perhaps I should have let him, but he was full of spite and anger and his hands shook so that he could not reload quick enough. He never loved her, never cared for her – never even noticed her unless he demanded attention and beat her if he did not get it – so why did he  kill her? Jealousy? That malicious worm that gnaws away at some people making them only want to possess and control? Oh certainly, it was not for love.
I was quicker. I rolled, naked, from the bloodied bed, grasped my pistol, cocked the hammer home and shot him through where his heart would have been if he’d had one.

So I am here in this dank rat, cockroach and flea infested Jamaican gaol awaiting the pleasure of the hangman. The boredom is the worst thing to endure. When you have been active all your life, used to the open space and the freedom of the sea, to be confined is hard to tolerate. There is nothing to do except sleep or walk up and down the few yards between one brick wall and the other, hearing the cockroaches crunch beneath your boots, not caring if you stepped in the muck of human vomit, piss and shit. Tomorrow, I will be free from it all. But that is tomorrow. I have today and tonight yet, to endure.

photo: Cathy Helms
 I am not alone here. There are fifteen of us cramped together in this sweltering cell. Fifteen men all waiting to meet their god, or gods. The black man who huddles in the corner is an escaped slave, it is a wonder they did not hang him the moment they caught him. The poor bastard has a broken arm, his eyes are wild with pain. I guess it will be a relief for him to die tomorrow. No one talks to him, we have given up trying; he cannot speak a word of English. Or Spanish or my own tongue, French. Or maybe he can, but does not want to. Maybe he just wants to be in his own, small, world and shut the nightmare that is this one, out.

That other man, the young man, not yet old before his time, is sitting to one side, his jaw-line beard and tangle of hair filthy, crawling with lice. He tries to keep his dignity by keeping it tied back with a grubby blue ribbon. He is – was – a pirate. He has not admitted it, in fact he has spoken very little, but I can tell. I’ve been at sea long enough to know. I have done my share of privateering and piracy.

Like me, he is restless, ill at ease, longing for the freedom of the oceans. I watched as he stood up, a moment ago, a heavy sigh floating on his breath, his clothes stained and torn, smelling of the shit of this place. Who is in his thoughts? Whose face will he see in those last moments as the noose slowly strangles the life from his body? A wife, a sweetheart, a lover? His mother, who will, maybe, never learn of her son’s fate? For the first time in my life I thank God that my own mother passed to Heaven many years ago.

I follow the line of his gaze – even the rats have had enough of this place! We watch as two of them scuttle out through a drainage hole that never drained anything. I stand here, staring at a crack in the wall. A small horizontal line topped at right-angles by a vertical one, mimicking, for all the world, the shape of the gallows. As if I needed reminding! A third rat follows the first two. Odd. This miserable place is usually crawling with the vicious little beady-eyed buggers. Where were they all? I look again at the crack. It is bigger, wider.

Then I felt it. The ground beneath my boots was trembling like a frightened whore caught naked in the street. I walk over to join the lad at the small grilled window.
“What is it do you think?” I said. Why did I ask? I knew perfectly well what it was. Did he?

It would not be the first, nor, no doubt, the last earthquake to hit Jamaica. One had  tossed half of Port Royal and its inhabitants into the sea twenty or so years ago, back in 1692.

“If it’s what I think it is,” he answered me, “we might not have to worry about being hanged.”
The other men were on their feet, scrabbling and kicking at the bolted door, starting to yell and scream. Then the young man pulled me violently aside, almost wrenching my arm from its socket. I cussed, furious, startled, but he had saved me for the walls were coming down, falling, toppling inward, crumbling as the earth beneath us shook and quivered in unleashed rage, heaving itself upward as if the ground was shrugging us, indifferently, aside. The sound was of several broadsides being fired at once. Dust clouded the air, men inside the gaol were screaming. Those outside, men, women, children screaming also. Hell opening up before us.

But as those walls came down and provided those few of us lucky enough to not be crushed, or injured, with a means of freedom, of escape, it was not her, not the woman I had loved, who I was thinking about.
Allez, monsieur!” I shouted. “ Vite! Vite! Do not stand there – run! Or do you wish to stay ‘ere and ‘ang at the governor’s pleasure, after all?”

It was him, the black haired pirate who was in my thoughts, of the thoughts of moi, Claude de la Rue as we ran. Him, Jesamiah Acorne, whom I would, in the years that were to follow, come to love, come to treasure in my thoughts as the cherished son that I’d never had.

© Helen Hollick
Helen is an author and the founder of Discovering Diamonds 

The song: Skin by Rag ‘n Bone Man

Extra Fact:
Game Of Thrones followers might be interested to know that Rag 'N Bone Man wrote this song after watching the scene in GoT when Jon Snow killed the Wildling, Ygritte. The inspiration for the lyrics is the love that they'd almost had for each other.

about the author

Helen lives on a thirteen-acre farm in North Devon, England. Born in London, she wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. She has written a non-fiction about pirates and one about Smugglers, due to be published in 2019

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
Amazon Author Page (Universal Link) viewAuthor.at/HelenHollick

Note: There is copyright legislation for song lyrics but no copyright in names, titles or ideas
images via Pixabay accreditation not required

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The Full List of Authors

1st        Philip K. Allan     
 2nd      J J Toner         
 3rd       Catherine Kullman    
 4th       Helen Hollick              
 5th       Richard Tearle    
 6th       Barbara Gaskell Denvil
 7th       Nicky Galliers
 8th       Angela Macrae Shanks          
 9th       Katherine Pym  
10th      J G Harlond    
11th       Anna Belfrage
12th      Richard Dee
13th      Inge H. Borg
14th      Annie Whitehead
15th      Louise Adam
16th      Charlene Newcomb
17th      Alison Morton                         
18th      Kathryn Gauci
19th      Helen Hollick 
20th     M.J. Logue
21st       Helen Hollick 
22nd     Cryssa Bazos               
23rd      Jennifer Wilson                       
24th      Elizabeth St John  writing as Julia Darke                         
26th      Helen Hollick
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